Delphi Automotive's Pittsburgh Connection Has Leg Up in Race to Driverless Technology

In the race to perfect driverless vehicle technology, the winner may be neither an automaker like General Motors (GM)  , a software maker like Alphabet's Google, nor even a car-sharing service like Uber.

The first-place finisher might be an automotive supplier like Delphi Automotive (DLPH) , an ambitious up-and-comer in the field. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in a few weeks, Delphi will demonstrate the latest stage of its technology, a car it said is fully driverless, albeit under controlled conditions.

To the extent Delphi can provide a commercially ready, turnkey driverless solution that meets government safety guidelines, that realization will constitute excellent news for the world's smaller automakers, which lack the capital and research expertise to develop their own systems.

Delphi is a one-time GM parts subsidiary that evolved -- following its 2005 bankruptcy after spinning off from GM -- into an independent global automotive supplier specializing in high-value safety, connectivity and environmental components and systems. From the company's initial public offering price of $22 in 2011, shares are now triple in value, a stark contrast to GM's share price, which is below its IPO price of 2010.

Delphi is benefiting from GM's decades-long affiliation with the robotics lab at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. CMU has been building robotics capability since 1979, making it the oldest such department and a global leader in the field. In 2007, CMU -- using a Chevrolet Tahoe -- won the Defense Department's advanced research "Urban Challenge" for autonomous vehicles.

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